Recently, my 40th birthday was held in the backyard of a friend’s house. This particular friend has two little girls, and they have a tree house to beat all other tree houses. It’s lined with potted plants, has been written on in little girl handwriting, and has a tire swing hanging below it.
As a few friends started to gather they were commenting on the tree house. I noticed that several of my female friends called it a playhouse. As friends arrived, the tree house erh, um, …playhouse, became the holding tank for gifts, cards, and whatnot.
Throughout the evening I overheard several of my male friends calling it a fort. A fort? It would never have occurred to me to call it a fort, but sure enough, a friend with his two little boys arrive and before you can say hello, they are up in the FORT! They have turned the quaint, girly, little tree house into a station for their troops and have scaled the walls looking for bad guys to battle.
This treehouse-playhouse-fort observation caused me to notice, once again, how different we are.
Men and women. Oh how I want us to be the same. If we are the same I don’t need anyone or anything. If we are the same, I can be needless and wantless knowing men don’t provide anything I need. If we are the same, I am just fine with all my fabulous girlfriends, thank you very much.
I lived this way for a very long time. And it worked. My heart and I all barricaded behind a wall of independence and self-reliance. I saw men as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst.
In reality, I was plain ol’ afraid. Anything resembling vulnerability was the enemy. Ask for help from a man? Too vulnerable. Need support, comfort, or assistance from a man? Never gonna happen. I would have rather chewed my own arm off than ask for help from a man.
Up to that point in my life, what I knew about men was: if you give them an inch they take a mile. So I’ll keep my inch and keep pretending I don’t need anything or anybody.
Then something dramatic shifted. Several men in my life became good friends. They learned of my pain, and knew of my hurt and fear. As I watched them very carefully, I could see something was different. They didn’t push their way in when they weren’t invited and they didn’t run away if I was hurting or behaving unpleasantly. They just stayed.
Oh, and did I test them? Yes I did! I threw fits like a toddler and told them I hated them. I treated them time and time again like surrogate abusers. I took out my anger and pain on them for what other men had done to me. I called them words not fit for blogging. I was confused by their care and comforted by their kindness all in the same moment.
For all the times I was used and abused in the past, these patient men felt the wrath…and they cared for me anyway. For all the times I was left and abandoned, these men took the heat. And they stayed and they stayed and they stayed. They still stay.
They see me for what I am becoming and not what was done to me. They know my wounded places. They respect when I need distance, and they pursue when I need support. They have taught me that different doesn’t have to mean dangerous. They have taught me that having a need means I’m human, not that I’m about to be had.
If I perceive a man is too close to me emotionally or otherwise, there are still many days when I want to run for the hills. And there are times when I feel abandoned or rejected, and I want to lash out in anger from the fear. But, the beauty I have found in allowing men to see me while not having to perform or be someone I’m not is one of the most powerful, beautiful, experiences of my 40 years.
So when a playhouse is called a fort because men and women so often see life through a different lens, I will remember that differences can bring strength. And, I will give my independent, defensive old self a break from protecting my present from my painful past…I will let myself be cared for.
P.S. Thank you to the steadfast, tender, trustworthy men in my life. Thank you for being good men with faithful hearts and gentle hands.